ONCE UPON A TIME, culture was understood as an activity, a nexus of rituals and shared understandings, which enables us to live more fully. Now, it is just a lot of stuff for sale.
Five years ago, James Salomon stepped down as director of Mary Boone Gallery to found his own shop, Salomon Contemporary Warehouse, on Plank Road in East Hampton. The business expanded to Chelsea in early 2010. Plank Road, celebrating the gallery’s fifth anniversary, offers a sampler of works from the initial stable.
The exhibition is a delicatessen of stock contemporiana punctuated by a few big-ticket names (Donald Sultan, Eric Fischl, Alice Aycock) and one delightful find (Chick Bills). The rest tend toward that variety of postmodern production that leans on Duchamp and evades judgment on aesthetic grounds. Leo Castelli once boasted: “Mary [Boone] and I, we can make an artist charismatic.” James Salomon has learned the sport from the best.
Fischl, previously packaged by Castelli and Boone as a Bad Boy, is represented by a loose but well-behaved wash of a female nude. Salomon’s current Bad Boy is Michael Bilsborough. Heart of Glass presents a cartoony sex-a-thon drawn in a crude, uninflected pen line. A dogged gaggle of skinny guys and gals look as if their postures are not worth the nudity. Epicures of erotica should stick to shunga prints. Billy Sullivan is represented by 10 paired photos of the Facebook kind, livened with a bit of peep show: a middle-aged man cavorts with his pants down; a youngster pees on the side of a road.
Sultan’s two photographs of smoke rings evoke elegant stills from a hookah video. Technically lovely, they bear comparison with the “scientific” photos of Bernice Abbott and Naomi Savage’s essays in movement. Aycock dominates the room with Murmuration, an imposing 5-foot square pencil and qouache variation of her earlier series, Wars on a Starry Night. Bills is a talented inventor of impossible firearms. His gun case holds two beautifully crafted hand guns that will never shoot. The improvisation makes us mindful of what handsome machines historic revolvers can be.
There is hi-tech archery going on in Pia Dehne’s Hunter in Corn Field (Snow). Dehne clearly disapproves of hunting. Michael Combs does, too. Five wooden swan necks, carved and painted white, hang in a curvaceous cluster. Alice Hope wastes good buckshot by covering a portion of wall with it. Margaret Evangeline’s expressive tool is a shotgun, useful for putting holes in aluminum panels. Jameson Ellis is into guns, too, but it is hard to know why.
Arwa Abouon, born in Libya, was raised in a Muslim household in Canada. Her video showcases a succession of different women in street dress. Each one gradually appears in a pink hijab, chewing gum and blowing bubbles. A warning against creeping sharia? Or shallow identity politics? Lucky Abouon does not have to choose between the burka and bubble gum. Sebastián Errázuriz’s Twin Towers or Double Trouble combines two toy-sized United Airlines fuselages sharing one wingspan. A sort of biplane, it hangs on the wall in a nosedive. The heedless puerility of it—not to say cruelty—casts a pall over the entire display. In an exhausted culture, even self-expression runs on empty.
© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey
This review appeared first in CityArts, October 14, 2010.